Sunday, August 22, 2010


This week we've been doing a bit of fruit picking, and smacking our lips in readiness for the fruit that is yet to come.

Our earlier-fruiting crab apple tree was almost bent double under the weight of fruit this year. We picked the fruit slightly unripe to relieve the tree, and ended up getting over 25kg of apples! So far we have boiled the fruit and strained it through a jelly bag so we get only the juice and not the sour, bitter pulp. The pulp's now on the compost heap, and the juice will be turned into jelly, syrup and all manner of delicious things. You can see the colour of the juice is a really pretty pink colour. Although crab apples are quite sour and you wouldn't really wanna eat them, the juice is delicious when sweetened and processing them fills the house with their lovely fragrance.

Pabi Bach and I went on a long forage earlier this week to check our favourite damson, sloe and blackberry spots. None of the fruit is ripe yet! The sloes are blue and just beginning to turn, the damsons are hard as bullets and the ripest wild blackberries we could find were just turning red! Our domesticated bramble has already yielded a few sour fruits but it looks like Grandad John was right when he prophesised that the blackberries would be late this year... it was a lovely walk though, and Pabi found some elderberries - not so good for jam (they have absolutely NO pectin in them at all) but fabulous for homebrew...

The ivy is near to flowering. Pabi and I found 4 different varieties in one small stretch of woodland on our walk. Ivy flowers are a crucial autumn feed source for the bees.

We also took Dad to pick some more mirabelles. They're nearly finished now, although there are some real whoppers on the higher branches, shame we couldn't reach them... but anyway, Dad has worked really hard and today he made Mirabelle Cheese (like a really thick jam) and Mirabelle chutney. The whole house smells wonderfully of vinegar and spices now! Both the cheese and chutney began life as Mirabelle juice and pulp (fruits boiled and then sieved) with sugar, and then we just varied the ingredients, adding cider vinegar, an onion, and 1/4 tsp each of crushed allspice berries, mustard seeds, ground ginger, and grated nutmeg.

Pabi and I are off on holiday this week, but when we get back hopefully the sloes and damsons will be lovely and long as the farmer doesn't (brutally and destructively) flail the hedgerows before we get home!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Watermelon Curry and other Culinary Adventures

Dad went to a music festival over the weekend, and came back with a watermelon and some greengages he found in a hedgerow! Greengages are one of my absolute favourite treats; their season is so short and they're harder to find than other types of plums, but I think they have the best flavour. We used to eat them on the beach in Brittany, getting sandy and sticky with juice all at once. I can't believe he found them just growing in a hedgerow!

Anyway, there was this watermelon, and I had no idea what we were going to do with it. Then I remembered that at Christmas my grandparents gave Pabi Bach and I a book called 'The Modern Vegetarian' by Maria Elia, and that there were a few recipes for watermelon in it. So we chose the 'Watermelon curry with black beans and paneer' - only without the paneer, and with mixed beans and chickpeas instead of black ones.

It's a really delicious recipe - Pops found it a bit hot but the mixture of spicy and sweet is really refreshing and brings out the flavour of the watermelon (and I like it hot - as far as I'm concerned a curry's only good if it makes my nose run!). I know it sounds weird but as you cook it it starts to smell delicious. It's got a sweet edge but looks more like it's cooked with tomatoes than strange pink fruit!
It's a really interesting book actually; the recipes are so original and pieced harmoniously together from many different cuisines. It's a bit adventurous for everyday, but we've tried a few things from it and they've all been delicious. And if you have a sudden surprise watermelon sprung on you there are actually a total of 4 recipes for it. Definitely recommend it, and for everyone who likes their fruit and veg - not just vegetarians.
Anyway we made the curry. It was delish. And in the cooking process we discovered a couple of ways of eating raw watermelon which are delicious.

The first is to sprinkle your watermelon chunk with salt and tuck in. Yum! Try it with pepper too.
The second is to chop up your chillis for the curry. Then plonk a load of watermelon on top of where you've just been cutting chilli. Take a bite. Hot but heavenly!!

Apart from this we also stewed the more squooshy of the greengages. I stoned some more mirabelles and we had these fresh for pudding, along with some of the apple and blackberry mixture from Sunday lunch and then banana and Ambrosia custard. Lush.
Yesterday we had Grandad John (adopted, but nonetheless adored) round for Sunday lunch - roast lamb for the meat eaters, all the veg (including our slightly unusual family tradition of having spicy roast butternut squash and/or aubergine with the usual potatoes, peas, etc) as well as the first of our runner bean crop! And Pabi Bach cooked a delicious Blackberry and apple pie with a pastry lattice top. Everyone tucked in, but I'm afraid that yours truly ate it for a midnight snack before I could take a picture to show you all. But it was beautiful. And delicious.

^ no picture of the pie, so flowers from our garden instead ^^

Anyway, off round to Mum's tomorrow night for more culinary fun... ;)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tarte aux Mirabelles

Yesterday I made this mirabelle tart, according to Keith Floyd's recipe 'Alsatian Plum Tart' (from the book 'Floyd on France'). On top of the pastry is a layer of egg custard and on top of that the mirabelles with a little sugar. Personally I would have liked the custard to be different - sweeter and creamier - or perhaps would just have had the pastry and fruit! It was still delicious though...I'll perfect my recipe and post it when it's perfect!

This is from the second batch of mirabelles we have picked. The first batch I stewed in a little apple juice. They were delicious but a bit sharp - I find that they do need sugar or honey with them, when cooked. Unusual for me - I like my gooseberries and blackberries completely sugar-free! Raw though, they're so sweet and juicy, really lusciously delicious; I can't believe perople don't eat more of them! They're amazing! They're apparently good for jam too, and are used to make eau de vie....maybe another homebrew project is on the horizon? ;)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Honey Harvest and Scrumping Season

Today we harvested our honey! I hadn't been to see the bees for ages, in fact the two hives that we harvested from today were practically unrecogniseable. Both had huge populations, whereas the last time I saw them they were two rather pathetic-looking halves of an artificial swarm. It' brilliant to see that they've built up so well, and hopefully with some TLC they'll go into the winter nice and strong. I shouldn't be too surprised though...these are the descendents of the wall hive (see video blog) so they can clearly take care of themselves!

^ The hives; opening up; bees on a frame of sealed honey; lovely docile bees

The honey is gorgeous and light, very flowery with a real citrusy tang to it...I thought it tasted a lot like elderflowers but according to F. N. Howes' 'Plants and Beekeeping' elder is nectarless and bees don't go near it. So it must have come from some other delicious blossom. We got a gallon of the stuff however - a decent harvest from one super. So not the stuff of beekeeping legend, but not bad considering we came into the season with 90% losses.

^ Uncapping - cutting off the wax seals with a warm knife; putting the frames in the centrifugal extractor; the end product!

Afterwards the frames went back to the bees to tidy up the remaining remnants of honey and to fill up again. The weather seems to have picked up a bit (touch wood) so hopefully they'll be able to get some more stores together. Otheriwse we'll just feed some honey back to them :)

And, as if our delicious honey wasn't enough, I can declare that it is the start of the scrumping season! We came home today with some little yellow mirabelle plums. They're a bit watery but lovely and sweet, and stewed up or maybe even dried in the dehydrator they should be delicious...I'm so excited now about picking more of them and the rest of the wildfood to come!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Holiday Knitting 2: Spinning The Yarn

Today I've begun spinning the yarn for my Blue-Faced Leicester jumper. I only spun a couple of metres to make sure that a) I can still actually spin (the last thing I spun was my Corriedale hat,, I think - but even after all this time I still remember it! It's like riding a just came flooding back!) and b) the yarn I spin is suitable substitute for the commercial yarn specified in the pattern. I think the yarn might be a little thick but boy is it soft and gorgeous!
I started by pulling off a bit of the tops and splitting it down the middle lengthways to make it into two more manageable chunks. I then took it to my Louet Julia wheel and spun two small bobbins of simple singles on the worsted side of things. One turned out a bit more thick 'n' thin than the other, but when I roughly plied them together on my drop spindle it came out pretty nicely. The oatmeal colours have blended into a lovely grey tone - I could keep it more oatmealy by separating the different colours in the tops I suppose, but I quite like this grey...i's really silvery and light.
So where I am up to now - I have spun a small skein of it. It feels great. I'm just going to finish it by soaking and setting and then I'll measure out the wpi and stuff. But I am in love with the fibre. It's so nice I think that whatever I do to it nothing could spoil it. Can't wait to wear it now!

Leave a comment, let me know what you think! Would love to hear about your own crafty endeavours ^^

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Holiday Chips

Here's a quick recipe that my friend McFrizz and I invented on our trip to Brighton - it makes the naughtiest chips ever, really delicious. Enjoy!

potatoes and/or sweet potatoes (quantity depends how hungry you are!)
a little sunflower or other vegetable oil
a couple of tbl sp honey
a pinch of dried mixed herbs (or fresh; try thyme, oregano, marjoram, savoury, rosemary, or even a very little lavender maybe...)
a pinch or two of cayenne pepper

1. Preheat the oven to hot, about 200 degrees C. Place a large roasting tin therein with a little oil in to heat.

2. Meanwhile chop the potatoes into chunky chips. When the oven has heated, place the chips into the roasting tin, tossing them around in the oil. Replace in the oven at 200 degrees C still, and check after 25 - 30 mins.

3. When the chips are almsot done (they might take up to 45 mins, or will be quicker if you follow the tip below) drizzle and sprinkle on the honey, mixed herbs and cayenne pepper and toss again. Replace in the oven for another 5 - 10 minutes until the chips are cooked and just turning brown at the edges.

4. Serve and guzzle greedily!

Tip: the chips will cook quicker if you par-boil them for 10 - 15 minutes before roasting.

I think they'd be brilliant with a salad with a light honey and mustard dressing or could make a wicked chip butty ;)

Green Brighton

I've just returned from a week's holiday in Brighton, a city that is increasingly leading the way in moving towards a more sustainable way of life and which has just elected the first ever Green Party MP to parliament, Caroline Lucas. My holiday was more of a fish-n-chips and tourist-souvenirs kind of affair, but driving (on the bus) past a community garden plastered with "Boycott Tesco" slogans every day inspired me to look a little deeper at the eco stuff going on in the city.

First of all, let's take transport, something which the authorities seemed to be working really hard at. The bus network is fantastic in Brighton, and as the side of each bus will testify, they seem to be seen as "essential transport" for the city. There are cycle paths everywhere also, all over the city and right up to the beach. The smaller streets of the centre of town are really pedestrian friendly, although crossing the roads was an absolute nightmare! Luckily though the Transition Brighton & Hove's Transport group are committed to changing this, and on the plus side getting around on foot also opens up the possibilites of visiting the many small local businesses and whole food shops and restaurants to be found. (In fact I was totally surprised by how many vegan restaurants I saw - it was really amazing, but unfortunately the friend I went with loves MEAT and so I didn't get to try any).

In terms of food, Brighton is bustling and it seems that local businesses really work together - there's a food festival, a market, and loads more...but on my trip I didn't see any allotments or much evidence of people growing their own. However, Brighton has plenty of green space and parks, so hopefully as the Transition movement there finds it feet we'll start seeing beautiful green gardens instead of parched grass!

However, best of all I think is the sheer number of individual projects and organisations at work in Brighton. The Brighton Permaculture Trust has a fantastic programme with events such as Open Eco Houses and family-friendly Apple Day, and projects to renovate orchards or involving local schools. There's also the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, which has a 'Scrumping Project' (sounds great to me!) and Harvest Brighton & Hove, which runs local courses in growing your own and eating locally. And just on my skin-the-surface trip I encountered a photographic exhibition near the peer highlighting conservation issues...even the most superficial of tourists couldn't fail to notice some of the city's many inspiring initiatives, events and projects.

In all, as a tourist town Brighton has to balance the needs of local businesses and tourism with their eco-aspirations. It has its problems - litter left by lazy tourists and no doubt huge amounts of electricity needed to power the pier and other attractions. On my visit I didn't see a lot of direct hand-to-earth action, but the atmosphere of cooperation and working together between local organisations and businesses was really noticeable (even on the pier, with the milkshake ladies providing cups of tea for the people in the henna tattoo hut) and the range of initiatives going on is enviable. Keep it up Brighton, you're an inspiration!